Taking a queue from my last post’s saint, Philip Neri, and a nice encounter two days ago, I’m starting a multi-part reflection on joy in city life… I hope you’ll follow along:
It’s a basic tenet of nearly every school of human philosophy that happiness, true happiness is the universal goal of everyone… However one defines it, all of us seek to be “happy,” rather than, “sad.” The Greeks called this eudaemonia – a happiness that is tied up with goodness and living out one’s divinely given purpose. I’ve been praying about this search, and got input from an unexpected source this past week: my taxi driver. Commenting on the dichotomy between DC’s beauty and the anxiety of its residents he remarked,
“What’s the good of having the good life if you don’t live it? Seriously man, some people are never happy ’til they’re miserable.”
There’s something to the cabbie’s wisdom. It’s not just the classic, “If only Americans would be more European; working to live rather than living to work.” We take ourselves, our careers so seriously… as if they were eternal, galaxy-changing things. In the midst we find ourselves sad. Our dour demeanors might not be so bad if life promised to respond with security for each of us, but that’s not the case is it?
The most stone-faced pin-striped lawyer is just as likely to get caught in a smoke-filled metro tunnel as anyone else. Plans thrown off, an important deal ruined as a result… Where did all his seriousness get him? All of us know stories of friends who worked, planned, struggled for a promotion only to lose it, perhaps even a whole career, for reasons completely outside their control. At the end of the day, such a person doesn’t even have happy memories to enjoy… only stories of struggle sadness and a tragic end. Looking at the state of affairs through eyes of faith, what might we discern?
If gravity doesn’t necessarily get us happiness maybe a little foolishness, or at least some light-heartedness will? Dont’ get me wrong, I’m not proposing anyone be foolhardy (which Thomas Aquinas defines as a vice)… this isn’t about ignoring real responsibilities in order to go on a round-the-world cruise… or going skydiving with a heart condition. That’s just stupid. But if we have a child-like trust in God our Father, our joys reman just as strong as ever while our stumbles don’t bruise us as they used to. In tomorrow’s post we’ll consider some saintly examples of this lesson, but for now, consider praying about your own happiness… how’s it going? Do you feel truly FREE to be happy in your life?
Tomorrow we’ll consider some examples of saints who discovered the wisdom of foolishness…